Amazing Elephant Encounter in Florida

Myakka Elephant Ranch in Florida – an exciting experience to get close to elephants

Oh if only we could travel to Africa or Thailand to see happy elephants! When will COVID be over!!

With the elimination of circuses and pressure from agencies like PETA in the United States, exotic animals have had to find new homes and Florida is the place to retire for humans and animals alike.

The Myakka Elephant Ranch opened a little over two years ago as a conservation and educational program. The ranch is a nonprofit organization supporting global elephant conservation efforts. In November 2020 the owners began inviting the public in for elephant education encounters to help support the animals and work in connection with the International Elephant Foundation. Some of the money goes towards the foundation to support the preservation of wild elephants by building look out towers and anti poaching stations in Africa.

My sister and I excitedly drove the 20 minutes from our Bradenton, Florida neighborhood to the ranch. We signed up for the hands on spa encounter to spend the afternoon bathing the elephants. After the bathing portion, the 3 elephants, Lou, Carol, and Patty came out for snacks. During the one hour educational session, people ask questions and are invited to interact and pose for photos with the elephants and then we move outside to watch them in their own play yard.

Just like people, elephants each have a unique personality. In the wild, groups of elephants are led by a matriarch. Lou, the African elephant, has taken on that serious and dominant role in this trio. She was brought to the US in 1986 at 1 1/2 years old. She is now eight years retired from her work in the entertainment business. Her jobs included birthday parties, county fairs, circuses and fundraisers. She is used to being around people, so her daily baths which are important to moisturize her dry skin, give her additional enrichment. Her big trick is to reach out and use her trunk and the “two fingers” at the end of the trunk to accept a banana and apple from someone in the audience. Lou purrs when she gets her bath and happily poses with tourists and people willing to pay to bathe her.

Carol and Patty are both 49 years old and came to the United States from Thailand when they were two. They are both Asian elephants so have smaller ears, the shape of India instead of Africa. Carol was a movie star in her younger years and had a role as a youngster on Smokey and the Bandit 2. Patty doesn’t really care to get up and personal with humans but is devoted to her trainer of nearly 40 years. The elephant’s skin is very sensitive and they can feel a mosquito bite. Their hearing and smell are better than a hound dog. The Asian elephants do have tusks, but they are small and covered. In the hot weather, they stay cool with water and mud.

Two months ago, Myakka Elephant Ranch was able to install a new waterhole for the three elephants. It’s been a bit cold this past week in Florida, so they did not go swimming but instead enjoyed the electric heaters in their stalls.

Young Lou who is the son in the family visited Africa to learn more about elephant conservation efforts with the International Elephant Foundation. They work to support actions to eliminate the illegal killing and poaching of elephants. I was surprised to learn that only 300,000 African elephants now live in Africa, down from 10 million in 1930. 100 are killed every day. Additionally, only 40,000 Asian elephants still roam freely. Due to a loss of habitat, last year elephants killed many natives in Sri Lanka, and the natives killed elephants as well.

Raising awareness of the importance of conserving elephants and their habitats is what Lou and his dad Lou hope to achieve here at Myakka Elephant Ranch. Expanding their property to include more elephants and possibly breeding in the future is something they would be interested in. The White Oaks Conservation center in Northern Florida has taken a herd of 12 elephants with plans for an additional 20 retired Ringling Bros. elephants to it’s 17,000 acre property. Plans for breeding there are hopeful as is a trip for me to visit!

Lou, Carol, and Patty are bathed daily and minerals are painted on their toe nails. We took turns using a hose to wet down the pachyderms and then scrub their bodies with brushes. After the bath, and the hay, we had a hands on opportunity to pet their trunks and take photos. Then, the bathed ladies had a chance to ignore us and head out to the paddock to roll or toss dirt all over their bodies. They will be ready for tomorrow’s spa treatment.

Lou getting a banana from visitor
Lou giving educational program
Scrubbing Lou with special soap
Rinsing soap off Carol the elephant
Lou outside near new watering hole

14 Awesome Things to do this Summer on Long Island

Summer 2020 on Long Island offers many places to visit without going far. Beaches, trails, boating, towns and more.

For the past several summers I have put my United States passport to good use and traveled around the world.  I’ve shared photos and posts about some exciting places but my most popular post is about a small town in upstate New York, 17 things to do in Ithaca.

Like many, I am hesitant about traveling this summer. We are now entering phase 3 post pandemic, so some places are opening up here in New York but I will not be going too far away. In fact, with an abundance of outdoor opportunities on Long Island, I will share my summer bucket list with my fellow islanders.

While the state parks do charge an entrance fee of $10, the Empire Pass can be purchased for the year for $80 and with this summer of limited travel, it is well worth the investment.

1.  Robert Moses, Field 5

Yesterday I drove myself over the bridge to Robert Moses ocean beach on Fire Island.  Clean, soft sand, refreshing salt water with moderate waves, qualified life guards and open bathrooms make this beach a true pleasure. If your ideal day is to sit in a chair under an umbrella and read or to take a long walk along the shore, visit the lighthouse and maybe stroll into the small beach village of Kismet, this can all be done in a day trip. Walking east along the shore I will warn you that some bathers prefer not to wear swim suits.   Just remember to wear your mask in the bathrooms at the beach.

Parking $10 or Empire pass.

Fire Island Lighthouse Kismet Beach

2.  Montauk

The eastern most point of Long Island has this amazingly, still quaint fishing village. The cost of hotel rooms has sky rocketed in recent years but since you save money on air fare and time and the hassle of driving through New York City, it can be worth the splurge.  More ocean beaches, fishing trips, fresh seafood, hiking trails, cliffs, surfers and a light house to climb are just some reasons people keep coming out year after year to visit. My friend has made 2 visits already this summer with her kids to watch the sunrise at what is called THE END – and breakfast spots are open for the early birds too.

Hotel rooms are available but the average price per night is around $500 with a 3 night minimum on weekends. Day trip or a little getaway;  I’ll be planning my trip out east soon.

Montauk – Budget Friendly Vacation  

Montauk point light house
Montauk Point lighthouse

3.  Sunken Meadow State Park

What I love about this park is the 2 mile boardwalk along the beach for walking and riding bikes.  This park has hiking trails through the woods, and a public golf course with a driving range.  You must reserve a tee time in advance.  In addition, I like to visit this location as it is where we got married on the beach last June and had a fun celebration with family and friends.  We’ve been back a few times this spring and always enjoy some time outside.

Parking $10 or Empire pass:

4. Caumsett State Historic Park Preserve

This scenic park is located on the North Shore in Lloyd Harbor.  The old estate and buildings are still standing on the hill above the Long Island Sound and active horse stables give the feel of being a guest at a country estate.  The three mile paved and shaded trail is available to pedestrians and bicycles only.  No dogs allowed.

Parking $10 or Empire pass:


5. Cold Spring Harbor hiking trail

This one is Free.  Simply park by the library on Harbor Road in Cold Spring Harbor and you will see the sign to the entrance.  This is the north end of the 19 mile Nassau-Suffolk trail and does have some hills to climb.  People often bring dogs along on a leash.   I would highly recommend spraying for ticks before you head out on this trail or any trails on Long Island and be sure to check carefully when you return home as well.

6.  Huntington Village

The restaurants in town are most creative as they set up outdoor dining tables on side walks and alleys.  Musicians on the street, music coming from the restaurants and people walking around make us forget that we have been sheltering in place for 3 months.  The waitstaff is required to wear masks and you have the option to wear a mask as well.  Walking around the town, getting an ice cream and seeing people again can make us all remember we are part of a bigger community.  And when you go out to eat, you can feel good about supporting the local economy too!

7. Planting Fields, Oyster Bay

If you prefer gardens, this former Gold Coast estate features 409 acres of gardens.  The Coe house and greenhouses are currently closed but the grounds are open for walking and enjoying the outdoor gardens and architecture from the early 1900’s.

8.  Bayard Cutting Arboretum

Located on the south shore in Great River, the grounds are open everyday except on Mondays.  The trail along the river is lined with a variety of trees and plants in an informal setting.  The house is closed currently but this is a beautiful park to visit and learn more about the types of plants in this area.

9.  Long Island Aquarium

A favorite place to visit with families is the aquarium in Riverhead.  The sea otters, penguins and sea lion exhibits are outdoors.  Sting rays and sharks are indoors and masks are required.  Due to reduced guest capacity, reservations must be made in advance.

Tickets & Aquatic Adventures

10. Fire Island by Ferry

I grew up on the south shore in Sayville, known as the “friendliest town in America”.  This is really a great little town with restaurants and small shops along a quaint Main Street that often closes for town events like car shows and summer festivals.  Following Foster Avenue south towards the Great South Bay and turning left at the end, you will see the docks for the ferries.  Two of my first jobs were cleaning houses at Fire Island Pines and making pizzas at Cherry Grove. Both awesome little beach communities that do not allow cars, homes are connected only by boardwalks and the vibes from the New York City gay community are alive and vibrant.

The ferry to Sailors Haven and Sunken Forest also leaves from the same dock area and while homes are not available to rent and only a concession stand is available for dining, this natural setting makes for a great day trip for families.

Ferries cost $16-18 round trip and you can pay to bring your dog as well.  Ferries leave approximately every 2 hours.


10. ROBERT MOSES, Field 2

The western most end of Fire Island National seashore has a 3 par 9 hole golf course right there at the beach.  No reservations necessary as it is first come, first served. Perfect for beginners and beach lovers.  Pack a lunch or dinner, play golf and take a long walk around the point or hop in for a swim in the sea.

$10 parking fee or  Empire Pass.

11.  Jones Beach, Field 6

Although the concerts have been cancelled this summer, the iconic boardwalk at Jones Beach is still a treasure.  I prefer field 6 on the eastern most part of the park as it is the shortest walk to the water and right on the boardwalk.  Also a great place to walk with a stroller.  The playground may be opening soon and a there is a small 9 hole pitch and putt golf course along the boardwalk as well.  My grandmother and mom used to tell stories of going to the pool located in the building during the summer and the many evenings they spent dancing to music outside at the bandshell.

$10 parking fee or Empire Pass


12.  Kayak River Rentals

I have heard wonderful tales of kayaking the Nissequogue River starting in Smithtown near the bull (It’s a famous statue here on Long Island).  So you make a reservation and meet the group – sign some papers and board the kayak.  Double kayaks and canoes cost about $60 for the approximately 3 hour tour down the river toward the Long Island sound. Nature, birds, and water are the best, just prepare for the sun, bugs and hydration on your adventure.  A bus even brings you back to your car. This summer I will definitely try this.

13. Motor Boat Rentals

Living near the beach, I have always had either a sailboat or a motor boat… except for this summer.  While I am happy to save on the expense of maintenance and repairs, I will miss going out in a boat.

Having friends with boats is always a good alternative.  But if your friends don’t have a boat, it is possible to rent boats for a day or even half a day.  I did this last winter in Florida with my sister and her family and we had a blast. So as a consolation to staying home this summer without a boat, I have been looking into day rentals and am considering two. For a boat that could accommodate 8 people, for the day it is about $1000.

In Freeport, the rental shop offers hourly rentals starting at 2 hours for about $300.

In Port Washington, Long Island Boat Rentals offers deals for small boats as well as captained boats for the day.

I am looking forward to trying out one or both of these places this summer.  Who’s in?

I am grateful to live in such a beautiful place and to have the summer off.  I can not imagine what the fall will bring for me as a teacher but I know that I have today to get out and enjoy.  Keep safe, wear a mask if you will be near people and have a great summer!


Finding Unexpected Joy

As a widow finding joy after the loss of a spouse is hard. A laundry room makeover brings unexpected joy to this widow.

My morning smile has never stretched so far as it did today when I put another load in the wash.  It’s the fourth day in a row.  I am scrounging to find things to wash. It is really too exciting so I had to share my joy.

Sorry, this is not a post about my recent trip to Iceland but you can read about that here: Iceland

We had never done any indoor home renovations.  It was a money issue and also we worried that once we started, we would open up such a can of worms it wouldn’t be worth it.

But now that Mike is gone, as a widow, I am the only one making decisions in this house.  And the one thing I really did not like, is climbing two flights of stairs to do laundry in the boiler room.

I had tried going on strike back when the kids were little.  I thought someone else would start to help out more.  No one did, and there was lots of laundry to be done after my strike.  That backfired.

Continue reading “Finding Unexpected Joy”

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